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Healing Ministry 7

Volume 12, Number 4, Fall 2005

F rom the pulpit

Facing changes
in prayer
Father Thomas Johnson-Medland, CSJ

Introduction For some, this will mean for- joy, and compassion. I ask them
getting well-memorized and to send these things from their
Prayer is a vital part of our heartfelt prayers. For others, they hearts and from their eyes. I ask
lives. When we enter into crises, will lose the ability to know how them to communicate simply
prayer goes with us. As valuable to pray; while in the past, extem- and silently from within.
as it is and as central as it may poraneous prayer came quite Gradually, we build a practice
be, when we go through a peri- naturally to them. Their inability that will help when they become
od of suffering, the nature of our to pull words together coherent- weaker. Through this process,
prayer life changes. It enters the ly is troublesome and causes they are extending and retrain-
trauma, along with the rest of much frustration. ing their ongoing spiritual selves.
our lives. No area is left un- Changing the nature of prayer
touched. Ritual gazing life is a way of concretely prepar-
I often find myself counseling ing for the changes that lie ahead.
people on ways to adapt their I generally ask people to keep a Primarily, the goal is to shift the
prayer life to the changes in their picture of Christ, the Virgin, awareness of prayer from a
body throughout the dying Buddha, the Ten Commandments, mindful task of remembering
process. As their body weakens, the Prophets, or some other reli- prayers or ways of praying, to a
the need for prayer is still as strong; gious artifact close to their bed— new heartfelt task of gazing and
but, they are not physically capable within viewing distance. I ask admiring. This shift to gazing
of mustering the focus necessary to them to spend a little time each day and admiration will become
pray as they once did. gazing on the image and offering a more and more important as peo-
short prayer (while still able). ple weaken, lose their train of
Father Thomas Johnson-Medland, CSJ, I ask them to send the image thought, and become unable to
Lighthouse Hospice, Cherry Hill, New love, caring, tenderness, appreci- speak. The focus on admiration
Jersey. ation, thankfulness, gratefulness, also opens people’s hearts to the
8 Healing Ministry
Volume 12, Number 4, Fall 2005

presence of God in stillness and words about their disease progres- worked more openly with him
quiet rest. sion and weakness—at some point than I have ever worked with
their abilities to do anything else any other patient. Bob wanted
Benevolent glances will become exhausted. I urge things to be all out on the table.
them to practice this way of com- His frustration led me to give
There is an old story of two municating while they are still him a week-by-week explanation
religious masters who came to strong, so it is not a surprise or too of the limitations he was up
meet each other for the first time. difficult to practice when the actual against. It was clear that we
One was the head of Western need arises. needed to review alternate forms
Christendom, and the other was of communication.
the head of a large Buddhist sect. Silent prayer It was more apparent in Bob
The Western master sent an than in anyone else—we are not
emissary to the Eastern master’s This is no different with our bodies. He and I spoke about
monks to establish knowledge of prayer. Prayer is the communica- this idea and he affirmed,
proper protocol. How should tion we have with the Most High. throughout the diminishment of
they greet one another? As we progress to death, it will his skills, that he understood he
The Eastern monks said they also become limited and re- was more than simply his body.
should bow respectfully, be silent, duced—as will all forms of He was more than what he was
gaze on each other’s visage, and speech and communication. able to communicate.
see the presence of the Divine in Therefore, it is best to practice
each other. This seemed proper to forms of prayer that require no Conclusion
the Pope, so that is how they greet- verbal communication and mini-
ed one another when they met. mal use of energy. There comes a time in the ill-
This kind gazing is called Practice will enable us to feel nesses unto death that we have
“benevolent glances,” and it is an less awkward when the actual no control over what comes
ideal practice for silence and need arises to pray this way all of next—not that we ever really do.
meetings. As death approaches, the time. It will also ensure that But, we do have control over our
the practice of silence becomes we are able to perform this form coping with what comes next.
more and more necessary. of prayer in a more refined man- Silent prayer and ritual gazing
Perhaps it is not a silence that the ner. Practice makes perfect. are ways of coping with the
dying prefer or call forth, but the weakening condition of our bod-
weakening condition of the body Losing the ability to communicate ies, minds, emotions, and drives.
and the mind necessitate it. They are forms of communica-
Recently, I spent time with a tion that can be applied to all of
Communicating man named Bob. He had a brain our relationships, not just the one
through glances tumor and was clearly losing his we share with the Divine.
ability to communicate. Ideas The space in us that routine
I encourage people to think were clearly presenting them- prayer creates can often become
about communicating through selves to him—interiorly—but, a healing balm in and of itself—a
their glances. That is, I urge them he was unable to get them out to peaceful, serene cave of the heart.
to send love and joy, apprecia- those around him. He was losing Just beginning the daily routine
tion and acceptance through his ability to put words to of prayer can flood us with
their eyes and the warmth of thoughts, ideas, feelings, and images of peace, compassion,
their heart. They should send impressions. tenderness, and comfort. This
these things to each person that It was painful to be with Bob. routine may not heal our bodies,
comes to see them. It became increasingly more dif- but it will tenderly nurse and
This encouragement and re- ficult to watch him struggle and soothe our minds, our hearts,
quest also comes with instructional to see his resulting frustration. I and our souls.